Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is NEVER okay. You have the right to feel safe and protected. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, there are services that you can go to for help. 

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

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What is sexual abuse?

 

Sexual abuse is when someone does something sexual that makes you feel uncomfortable, or touches your body in a sexual way without your consent.

In South Australia it is a crime to:

  • sexually touch another person without their consent (indecent assault). This could include unwanted kissing or touching, such as groping. It can also involve threatening to touch someone in a sexual way without their consent.  
  • have sexual intercourse with another person without that person’s consent (rape). Sexual intercourse means any activity involving penetration of a person’s vagina, labia majora or anus by any part of the body or by any object, and also includes oral stimulation of another person’s penis or vagina.
  • make someone engage in sexual manipulation. Sexual manipulation means the touching by a person of another person’s genitals or anus or of their own genitals or anus whether or not this includes sexual intercourse.
  • threaten, intimidate or falsely mislead someone to have sexual intercourse. 

There are also other laws that specifically apply for sexual behaviour towards children and young people, including:

  • having sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 17
  • a person in a position of authority over a child under the age of 18 (e.g. teachers, parents, foster-parents, guardians, religious officials, spiritual leaders, social workers, employers) doing a sexual act (including sexual intercourse) with the child;
  • an adult maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child under the age of 17. An unlawful sexual relationship is where an adult engages in 2 or more sexual acts with or towards a child
  • a person who makes or influences a child under the age of 17 to engage in or submit to a sexual act. This can include making that child expose any part of their body or taking photos or videos of that child engaging in a private or sexual act
  • employing, engaging, causing or permitting someone under the age of 18 to provide commercial sexual services

What is consent?

 

It is against the law to do a sexual act to or with someone without their consent. Consent means agreeing to sexual activity freely and voluntarily. 

In South Australia, the age of consent is 17. If you are 17 years old and above, you can legally have sex (or do another sexual activity) with another person who is 17 years or older as long as you both agree to it. 

There is one exception to this – if someone is in a position of authority over you (including people like a teacher, parent, carer, religious leader, doctor or employer) then you have to be at least 18 years old to consent to sexual activity with them.

In South Australia, consent to a sexual activity with a person who is between 16 and 17 years old can be a defence to a sexual crime if:

  • you are under 17 years old; or 
  • you reasonably believed that the other person was at least 17 years old.

Consent is more complicated than just believing that the other person consented. For this reason, it’s always best to check. 

Even if someone says “yes”, there are some situations in which they still cannot consent. You cannot freely and voluntarily consent to a sexual activity if you are:

  • forced or threatened; 
  • unlawfully detained;
  • asleep or unconscious;
  • intoxicated (whether by alcohol or any other drug) to the point of being incapable of freely and voluntarily agreeing to the sexual activity;
  • physically, mentally or intellectually impaired;
  • unable to understand the nature of the sexual activity; or
  • mistaken about the nature of the activity or the identity of the person you are doing the sexual activity with.

If you are thinking of doing something sexual with someone else, it is really important that you make sure you know how old the other person is and you check that they agree to the sexual act. You should take reasonable steps to make sure the other person consents. This might include:

  • asking the person what they want to do (for example, ‘Can I kiss you?’ or ‘Do you want to have sex, or do you want to wait?’)
  • looking at the other person’s body language to see if they look uncomfortable

Consent can be withdrawn at any time before or during a sexual act. It is also important to know that just because someone has consented in the past, it does not mean that they have given consent to anything in the future. Consent needs to be given every time you have sex or do something sexual with another person. 

You can find out more on our page on consent.

What can you do if you have been sexually abused?

 

If you are ever in immediate danger, please call the police straight away on 000 (triple zero). If you have been sexually abused, you have the right to be protected and you can report the abuse by calling your local police station. 

Sexual abuse is never okay. 

If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, there are services you can go to for help. We have provided this information below. 

We strongly recommend that if you have been sexually abused you get medical care. You can find your local GP here

A doctor can test and treat you for any sexually transmitted infections, carry out a forensic examination (if you were assaulted very recently and you wish to report the crime to the police) and provide information on sexual assault and follow-up services. It might be a good idea to keep any unwashed clothing you were wearing when you were assaulted in a bag. Clothing and skin can hold vital evidence that can help you during a police investigation. 

If you have been sexually abused, it is never your fault. If you feel comfortable, we encourage you to talk to someone you trust like a parent, family member, a close friend or a school counsellor. If you don’t want to tell anyone you know, you might feel more comfortable talking to a professional counsellor over the phone. You could call:

  • Yarrow Place – they provide specialist health service for people aged 16 years and above who have been sexually assaulted. You can call them on 1800 817 421. You can also email them at [email protected]. They are located at 64 Pennington Terrace, North Adelaide, SA 5006.
  • Youth Health offers a youth counselling service and other clinical health services for people aged 12 to 18 around Adelaide who are:
    • under the Guardianship of the Minister;
    • Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Island;
    • pregnant; 
    • a refugee or not able to live at home; and/or
    • gender diverse.

You can email Youth Health here, or you can visit one of their sites in Adelaide which are listed here.

  • 1800RESPECT which is open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. You can call them on 1800 737 732. You don’t need to give your name if you don’t want to, or you can give a different name.
  • The Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 (this is a 24 hour service). They offer a very supportive service and you can talk to them without giving your name. You can also email them at: www.kidshelp.com.au/teens/get-help/email-counselling/ or use their online chat service for people aged 5-25 at: www.kidshelp.com.au/teens/get-help/web-counselling/.
  • SHINE SA – SHINE SA is the lead sexual health agency in South Australia and welcomes people who are intersex, gender diverse and of all sexualities. They provide clinical assessment, treatment and counselling services across nine clinical sites. SHINE SA may charge a fee for service. You can call their sexual health line on 1300 794 584 Monday to Friday, 9am-12.30pm.

You can also look for other local services that may be available to you here

If someone has said you sexually abused them or the police want to talk to you about something you did, you should seek legal advice right away. You can contact us here for free and confidential advice if you are 24 or under.

Reporting to police

If you have been sexually abused, you can choose to make a report to the police. You can do this by going to your local police station, or ringing the non-urgent police assistance line on 131 444 (open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). If the abuse just happened, or if it is an emergency, please call the police on 000.

You can take a support person with you when you speak to police, such as a friend or family member. Sexual assault counsellors can also support you through the police process.

If you are the victim of sexual abuse, you do not have to make a report to police. It is your choice about whether, and if so when, you make a report to the police. There are no limits on when you can report sexual abuse to the police, even if the sexual abuse happened a long time ago. 

However, if you are under 18, and you tell someone else what happened, they might have to make a report to police if they are a mandatory reporter (this can include teachers and doctors).

If you are thinking about reporting to the police, but you aren’t sure if you are ready, it can be a good idea to write down everything you remember about what happened. That way you can have those details if you do decide to report. Remember to keep these details in a safe place. 

This South Australian Commissioner for Victim’s Rights’ booklet here sets out lots of useful information for victims of sexual abuse to understand their choices, the legal process and how they can access support. 

Compensation and assistance for victims

 

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse in South Australia, there may be a number of different ways you can get compensation or assistance, depending on what happened to you. These include:

  • support under the Victims of Crime Fund (SA), which can include compensation for physical and psychological injury, pain and suffering, and financial loss such as loss of earnings and the costs of counselling or medical treatment
  • discretionary and ex gratia payments made by the Attorney-General
  • suing the offender (or an organisation or person that failed to protect you from sexual abuse) in Court
  • support under the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse (for example, in a Church, at school, or in a sporting club), which can include counselling, a payment and an apology.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse in South Australia and want to apply for compensation under the Victims of Crime Fund, you generally need to make an application within 3 years of the sexual abuse although if you have been the victim of sexual abuse when you were under 18 years of age you generally have 3 years from the day you turn 18 to make the application.

Whether you can receive compensation from the Victim of Crime Fund if you are the victim of sexual abuse will depend on a number of things including whether you suffered an injury (including a physical or mental injury) because of the sexual abuse, whether you reported the sexual abuse to the police within a reasonable time, and whether you cooperated with any police investigation or prosecution. 

If you think you might want to apply for compensation, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer to find out what your options are. You can contact us for free and confidential advice here.

Find out more

 

You can also find out more about sexual abuse by looking at these websites:

If you’re under 25 and you have a question about sexual abuse that we haven’t answered above, please ask us a question here and we can give you some free information and advice.

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